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Why reduce the speed limit to 50mph on rural roads?

January 1st, 2010. Posted in Essential Thinking Skills, Motoring & Driving News

Advanced-Driving.co.uk – the UK’s most popular website for safe road driving, condemns the recent Government guidance to Councils to reduce the speed limit on many rural roads to 50mph. Why? Because it’s not roads that are dangerous but poorly trained drivers.

Lowering speed limits is an easy but ill-conceived and ultimately ineffective solution to tackling casualties. The wrong thinking also has no end. Why 50mph? Why not 40mph, or even 30mph?

The authorities know that most casualties occur below the posted speed limit on a given road. Trying to reduce casualties with speed limits alone would, therefore, need them to be set and rigidly enforced at levels that interfere with reasonable mobility.

Official figures also show that ‘exceeding the speed limit’ is reported by the Police as a contributing factor in only 7% of accidents for drivers aged 17-19, and less than 2% for drivers aged over 25 who form the majority of road-users (1).

Declaring more of our safe driving to be illegal is a weak and unthinking step for genuine road safety.

There is considerable concern over the ongoing proliferation of the Speed Kills campaign. This policy is continuing to create a population of drivers who do not know how to determine what a safe speed is for a given road or situation.

For more than a decade, Speed Kills has been teaching people, including millions of new drivers, that just keeping to the speed limit will keep them safe. This is a dangerous form of ‘zombie’ driving, meaning people focus much more on their speedometer as an indicator for safety, rather than the real hazards going on around them.

Advanced-Driving.co.uk is passionate about good safe driving, and believes that setting speed limits too low works against safety. It causes frustration in the average, responsible driver and focuses the driver’s mind on an arbitrary number (the limit) rather than encouraging good judgement of the speed which is safe for the conditions.

Sometimes even 30mph can be too fast for a rural road, whereas 60mph may be appropriate if the conditions are right for that road. Safety will always depend more on the circumstances than the posted limit.

The Government should be providing better driver training to stop the decline in driving ability. There are simple and teachable skills that would make drivers more aware of risk, give better control of hazards and improve the ability to select a correct and safe speed, yet these skills are not being taught.

It is also not only ‘young drivers’ who are let down by their training and the over-emphasis on speed. Crash figures show that ALL ‘new drivers’ irrespective of age have high crash rates – until they start to overcome for themselves the shortcomings in what they have been taught. Clearly, new drivers improve with experience, but this should not excuse inadequate training for learner drivers from day one (2).

Advanced-Driving.co.uk calls on the Government to abandon the simplistic and distracting focus on ‘speed’, and use the next decade to concentrate on tackling the fundamental failures in driver training to really improve road safety in the UK.

1) DFT Road Safety Research Report No.87 Learning to Drive: The Evidence. Figure 5.5: Proportion of drivers in accidents with factors attributable to the driver, by age group of driver, 2006

2) DFT Road Safety Research Report No.87 Learning to Drive: The Evidence. Figure 1.1: The effects of age (maturation) and experience on accident liability